Advice for US citizen seeking work in Canada
August 21, 2004 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm a U.S. citizen, curious about looking for work in one of Canada's major cities. I know that our neighbors to the north are bilingual and more of a socialist democracy than the U.S., but otherwise I'm pretty ignorant. I couldn't find all the provinces on a map, for example. What books and web sites should I read to learn more about Canada's politics, geography, history and culture? With more social welfare are job benefits different? Could I expect more time off than my current two weeks a year? Any advice you can give me to help me make a final decision on relocating?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
Here's an earlier thread on the subject of U.S. citizens moving to Canada.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:26 PM on August 21, 2004

Response by poster: I'm already familiar with the legal issues. I'm more curiouis about culture. I know Canadians elect their government, for example, but I can't make heads or tails of the wikipedia description of how the system works:

It is a decentralized federation of 10 provinces and 3 territories, governed as a constitutional monarchy and formed in 1867 through an act of Confederation.

Huh? What does that mean in practice? If I show up and don't know this (or the names of the provinces or how benefits work) will Canadians laugh at me? What do I need to do to make myself more knowledgeable?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:40 PM on August 21, 2004

maybe start reading the Canadian papers online every day, and google for terms you don't get? Globe and Mail, and Montreal Gazette, etc, or CBC?
posted by amberglow at 9:42 PM on August 21, 2004

As to the subject of modern Canadian culture, one of the best books I've read in this regard is Souvenir of Canada by Douglas Coupland. But then, I grew up in Canada, so it may just have been preaching to the choir.

If you want to learn how Canadian government works, you might try the pamphlet How Canadians Govern Themselves.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:53 PM on August 21, 2004

>With more social welfare are job benefits different?

Sorta. Instead of getting full or "sorta" full medical coverage, you get job benefits that fill in the (many) gaps. Eyeglasses, dentists, pediatricians, family doctors, chiropractors, psychologists, prescription filling costs, etc, etc.

Otherwise, you will find next to no difference in benefits, IMHO.

>Could I expect more time off than my current two weeks a year?

Vacations are on par with what people in the US get. Two weeks would be considered somewhat above average in my area. Most people here take about 1 week vacations. However, if you want to take more, you can bargain for it (that's nothing new).

>Any advice you can give me to help me make a final decision on relocating?

Try to move to a city that's surrounded by cities. :-) There's a lot of cities in Canada that are all alone. This will be very boring, and could leave you destitute if the city population starts to shrink. Anything else should be relatively obvious. :)

>I know that our neighbors to the north are bilingual

No. Not really. You either speak English if you're outside Quebec, or French if you are inside Quebec. Biligual people usually end up working telephones for companies, or work for the government. :-)

They teach French/English in schools and you can take French or English as either a secondary or primary language in any school anywhere in Canada, *HOWEVER* not a lot of Canadians who are force fed French remember it at all. That being said, all Canadians force fed English do remember. Give or take.

>and more of a socialist democracy than the U.S.

I suppose... Canada's political structure has hardly changed at all since we stopped being a direct colony of Great Britain. Our parliament structure is remarkably similar to most other British colonies. Elections are a *LOT* less exciting here than you have experiences in the past. The Queen can technically overrule any decision made, but in my lifetime she never has come close. In fact, I doubt she even remembers we exist.

We don't have to be socialist, however, most Canadians are (compared to the US). Compared to Europe, we're not, though.

If you really want to learn about Canadian history, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the Canadian Almanac for this year and read it thouroughly. Even an old one would be helpful.

You didn't mention it, but you need to be prepared not to enjoy any stations from the US that you couldn't get on your TV or Radio antenna when you move here. That's not to say there aren't similar stations here, but they will not be the same. No. You can't bring over your satellite TV. :-D

Be prepared to be told you can't spell certain words correctly and remember to change your spelling of them accordingly, lest you be constantly called someone from the US. (Canadians won't call you an "American" very often).

posted by shepd at 9:57 PM on August 21, 2004

(Forgot to add: you might find the section on the differences between Canadian and American government particularly useful, but I would recommend reading the section on parliamentary government so you get the terms down first.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:58 PM on August 21, 2004

I'm not trying to be crushingly unhelpful, but if what you know of Canada consists of 'we're bilingual' and 'more of a socialist democracy in the US', you need to be doing a whole pile more research before you make a final decision. You're light years away from a final decision, in fact.

To clarify a little on the bilingual issue, most of us are not actually bilingual, despite the country as whole being bilingual. There's a francophone portion of the country and an anglophone portion. The individuals in each portion are actually pretty unlikely to be bilingual, especially the anglophones.

You might start by checking out the Government of Canada's web page for foreigners. You'll find information about Canada, and also information about immigrating to Canada - a non-trivial undertaking, since we tend to be sort of fussy about who gets to come here. If you're not educated with solid job prospects, or in possession of either scads of money or relatives who are citizens, it's quite unlikely you'll be allowed to stay.

Job benefits do differ. Canada has a national unemployment and pension plan that you and your employer both pay into. It's likely that a major employer, or any employer with a union also offers a private pension plan. Basic health care is pretty much universal, though it's likely you'll have to pay some sort of premium, depending on which province you live in. If you're with an employer that offers a private pension plan, they probably pay that premium and also offer extended health care, and prescription drug coverage, as well as dental, etc. You can invest into an RRSP to help defer your taxes until retirement, but you won't likely get any kind of matching funds from your employer. Taxes are very much higher in Canada, and you'll pay federal and provincial income taxes and federal and provincial sales taxes, as well as many other taxes that are hidden in the prices of things you buy.

Two weeks vacation is the minimum. Your employer must either give it to you or pay you for it. Most large employers offer more, either to start or with seniority.

The bit you quote above means we have a federal government with some powers, underneath which there are provinces (not unlike states) and territories with other powers of government. It is a consitutional monarchy in that it is governed via an elected parliament, but the head of state is the Queen (you might know her as the Queen of England, but she's also the Queen of several other less damp places). Confederation was when Canada became a country rather than colonies of Great Britain in 1867, something we managed without a full scale war. There were rather fewer provinces then, but we've added a few in the intervening years (including some great ones like British Columbia and some rather dull ones like Saskatchewan).

And regardless of what you do and don't know, when you show up, Canadians will laugh at you. Laughing at Americans is the National sport of Canada. You might think it's hockey or curling, and officially it's lacrosse, but really, truly, it's mocking Americans.

If you intend to move to Canada permanently and become a citizen (something you can't do until you've lived here for several years), you will need to know all of thse things and very many more for the test. In fact, the study guide for that test would be a very good place for you to start answering some of your very basic questions.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:05 PM on August 21, 2004

Response by poster: When I moved from Virginia to Oregon a few years ago, I was very surprised by how different culture and government can be from state to state. If Virginia to Oregon was surprising, I'm sure U.S. to Canada would be more so.

I lived abroad in non-English speaking countries as a child, but I always lived in expatriot communities and went to American or international schools. I did most of my growing up in the U.S., and I don't feel like my life experiences have taught me much--just made me more profoundly aware of my ignorance.

Thanks for the links and the recommendations. I've got a lot of learning to do. I don't have an immediate decision to make, just trying to consider my options.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:16 PM on August 21, 2004

I assembled a bunch of links to newspapers, bands, record labels, and other "cultural things" when Firefox crashed again. (Why I continue to use this shitass browser, I don't know).

And now, on restarting, it seems many of your questions have been answered. But...

Could I expect more time off than my current two weeks a year?

Completely depends on the job you get. I don't know if there is a legal minimum or not. The last "real job" I had gave 3 weeks a year and added a week for each year you stayed at the job, to a max of 6. Other jobs I've had have been a year and they didn't add squat.

People have already pointed out that we're not "truly" bilingual. It's helpful to instead think of the country just having "two official languages", rather than being bilingual. I don't speak a lick of French, for instance, though I've lived here 36 long years. (I'm not proud of this, it's just a fact.) However, the number of jobs seeking bilingual employees, I'm told, is increasing (though I don't know why this is as it seems French speaking people are decreasing in numbers). For sure if you want a gov't job, you gotta be bilingual (though I don't know if foreigners are allowed gov't jobs, anyway).

I couldn't find all the provinces on a map, for example.

Here you go. (scroll down)
posted by dobbs at 10:24 PM on August 21, 2004

I disagree with the comment that Canadians' national sport is "laughing at Americans." No-one I know laughs at or would laugh at Americans. We view Americans as very similar to ourselves. (Most people I know disagree strongly with the Bush government, however. Your average Canadian that I know would be like a Democrat-supporter in politics, though slightly more left-wing).

Also, I live in Vancouver BC, which, like Toronto, is a very multi-cultural city (I believe 50% of people in Vancouver proper were born outside of Canada -- Hong Kong, India, Vietnam etc), and the people I know are tolerant of other cultures, and mix easily with those not born here.

All the best to you and welcome to Canada if you choose to make Canada your home.

I have also been told by visiting Americans that Canadians are "nicer" and not as materialistic as many Americans -- but again, I'm wondering if that's because of the place I live, Vancouver (I haven't visited Eastern Canada since my childhood).
posted by F4B2 at 11:25 PM on August 21, 2004

"Canadian History for Dummies". I know it's a "For Dummies" book, bright yellow cover and helpful icons and all that, but overlook that if it squicks you. It really is very well-written and very thorough and I enjoyed reading it. My husband was impressed with what I picked up out of it and we had some great discussions about our countries' differences (he's Canadian, I'm USian).

The author is Will Ferguson. Other Canadian-culture books he's written include "Why I Hate Canadians", "How To Be A Canadian", and a memoir called "I Was A Teenage Katima-Victim". I've read them all and they're great, totally worth checking out.

"Souvenir of Canada" by Douglas Coupland is also a good read.
posted by Melinika at 12:09 AM on August 22, 2004

I was going to suggest How To Be a Canadian but Melinika beat me to it, so I will merely second that suggestion. Not as a source of facts and figures, but as a great reflection of the culture.
posted by sueinnyc at 1:15 AM on August 22, 2004

No-one I know laughs at or would laugh at Americans.

On the other hand, almost everyone I know does, and would.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:05 AM on August 22, 2004

English outside of Quebec and French inside? That's a pretty simplistic. Why bother correcting a generalization with another one?

There are several Francophone communities outside of Quebec and there is quite a bit of English inside of it.

You don't have to be bilingual to get a government job. It depends on the amount of contact with the public and the level and geographic location of government.

If you have the time and the means, I highly suggest a road trip across Canada. It's a beautiful country and would give you a taste of the major cities and their surrounding areas. If you're just doing major cities, you can pretty much just cover British Columbia to Ontario and it should take you a week or so, depending on how quick you are.

If you're willing to look at smaller cities, there's quite a bit of opportunity in the north. The Northwest Territories has three diamond mines (one still under construction, if I'm up to date) which are providing a huge influx of cash and opening up many opportunities in Yellowknife in particular. At about 18 000 people it's hardly a thriving metropolis though. :) Also, the next closest city is Edmonton which is about a 16 hour drive. Quite a few people I've known over the years live in Yellowknife for a few years to get experience and make money and then move elsewhere.
posted by ODiV at 5:35 AM on August 22, 2004

A couple notes from an American that recently received her Landed Immigrant status:

- Yes, they are really that polite.

- Whether or not there is chocolate in it, it's a "chocolate bar" not a candy bar.

- Don't giggle at the way they pronounce garage or pasta or Mazda.

- Don't take offense if a Canadian calls you a "Yank", Americans are Yanks no matter what part of the country s/he is from.

- Yes, they are that serious about curling.

- I am constantly surprised at the racism against First Nations People (also known as Native Americans) and non-white immigrants.*

- Husband works for a crown corporation in BC (it's a union job) and receives three weeks holidays (note the use of the word "holidays", it's not called vacation).

I'm seriously lacking in any real knowledge about Canadian history myself and will check out a couple of the books mentioned.

*I live in a small farming community on the Wet Coast and, I suppose, racism is more blatant. Sadly, homophobia also rears it's ugly head on occasion.
posted by deborah at 10:09 AM on August 22, 2004

Calgary, Alberta has been called "the most American of Canadian cities" because it has the highest population of Americans living here per capita of any Canadian city.

In a very general way, this began with the ranching industry of one hundred years ago when the border was very porous and continues due to the oil industry of today. (I've heard stories that there are more flights from Calgary's airport to Houston than Toronto each day.)

Because of its oil & natural gas industry, Alberta has one of the strongest economies in Canada. It is the only province without a provincial sales tax and our government were able to recently announce that due to high natural resource royalties, we are completely debt free as well (provincially anyhow - don't talk to the municipalities about that!). Our income tax rates compare favourably not only to other places in Canada but end up being lower than many American locations as well. It is a very pro-business city and has either the 2nd or 3rd highest number of corporate offices in Canada.

Calgary is one of Canada's fastest growing communities and also one of its youngest. Although it has a reputation as being "redneck" (and it *is* a very conservative place in a lot of ways), it also has a strong arts community and an open, entreprenurial spirit that is a legacy of its Wild West beginnings.

It is still a relatively small city (approaching 1 000 000 people) so it still manages to combine a small-town feel (the "nice" factor) but while also offering many big city advantages.

Web searches for "Calgary" and other related terms (Calgary attractions, Calgary jobs, Calgary living, etc.) will provide much more information.
posted by Jaybo at 11:03 AM on August 22, 2004

>politics, geography, history and culture
The Canadian Encyclopedia Nice on-line encyclopaedia. Brief summaries of things.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2004

You might find An American's Guide to Canada entertaining or helpful, but keep in mind that Canada is big and cultural generalizations don't always apply.
posted by zadcat at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2004

>There are several Francophone communities outside of Quebec and there is quite a bit of English inside of it.

Yes, it was a generalization. I bet there's at least, oh, 5 communities outside quebec that speak mostly french! The chances of him moving to one? Hmmm.... I'll put it at 0.0001%

English inside quebec was outlawed a couple of decades ago, don'tcha know? It still exists, but as a subversive underground now.
posted by shepd at 10:03 AM on August 23, 2004

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